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John Underwood
August 28, 1978
Where coaching stops, chemistry steps in with encapsulated fury. It's madness
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August 28, 1978

Speed Is All The Rage

Where coaching stops, chemistry steps in with encapsulated fury. It's madness

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He says this even as Danahy allows that he doesn't believe the pros are into cocaine "in the same way they used to be into amphetamines"—that is, not as a stimulant before a game. Danahy also says the NFL has found "no need for urine tests. It's demeaning to our players and unnecessary in the absence of a drug crisis."

In his book Broken Patterns, no less a figure than Fran Tarkenton argues that despite the widespread use of "all sorts" of uppers in the NFL—not by him, by other players, "especially...defensive linemen [seeking] a final plateau of endurance and competitive zeal"—society is wrong to find fault, especially because society "turns around and accepts the fact that most great pop musicians are stoned out of their minds when they perform."

Tarkenton's defense begins to fray a little at the edges when the point is made that very few 275-pound pop musicians try to sit on 175-pound quarterbacks. Where it unravels completely for the NFL is when one realizes that if the problem is one-tenth as bad as Mandell makes it, the league is shockingly remiss in dealing with it. In view of the injury rate, it is a delinquency the NFL can ill afford.

Trial, a news magazine for lawyers, pointed out that the lack of expertise in tracing the cause of injury in football today may be a crime. The magazine suggested a central registry of information.

That such information is not available is, if not criminal, a sad commentary on the good intentions of football. Despite the fact that it is our most injurious game, there is no national "center" for data, no computerized feedback to high schools, colleges and professional teams, no telling them that this or that ruptured tendon was caused by such-and-such a blow in the fourth quarter in the rain on a grass field in Bloomington, Ind. Worse, says Dr. William Clancy, the University of Wisconsin team physician and orthopedic surgeon, "No organized medical input [is made to the medical adviser to the NCAA rules committee] by the people who are the best authorities on injury. A lot of people who really don't know are making the input. Rules committees are afraid doctors will change the game."

A number of attempts by concerned medical men have been made to bridge this gap. Clancy is active in the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine and in the American College of Sports Medicine. Sports medicine clinics, acting as centers for treatment and rehabilitation, are now operating all across the country. In some, such as Dr. Joseph Torg's clinic at the University of Pennsylvania, studies have been undertaken on head and neck injuries. But, at best, it is a disjointed effort, hampered by a flaw shared by the administrators of the game: seemingly, they don't care enough.

In 1974 Dr. Kenneth Clarke, then a professor of physical education at Penn State, formed the National Athletic Injury/Illness Reporting System (NAIRS) and funneled reports on 33 high school and college teams into the university's computer. His aim was to provide a "continuous awareness" of the definition of injuries, the degree of their severity and solutions they demanded.

The aim was high, the response low. For two years the research was funded mainly by sporting-goods manufacturers and grants from the National Federation of State High School Athletic Associations and the NCAA. Last year Clarke computed 175 reports from high schools and colleges. NAIRS, in turn, furnished subscribers with monthly reports and a year-end summary. Clarke also kept tabs on three NFL teams, but found "the league was not interested in our findings." He said that he had heard that NFL owners "didn't need any more data."

Dr. Clarke is now at Illinois. Penn State still provides computer time for NAIRS, and Clarke still gets nominal support from sporting-goods manufacturers for a shrinking staff that consists of two part-time paid graduate assistants and a secretary; Clarke himself is not paid. He is "very discouraged." The NCAA continues to put money into the program by the teaspoonful—a $1,500 grant last year—and without more funding Clarke "doubts the program will go on much longer."

He says his is a "realistic discouragement" because the commitment to keep injury records "has never been part of our sports heritage." He says, "Our concept of sport is that everybody is an expert, therefore we don't need all these sophisticated studies. It's an attitude problem."

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